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August 31, 2022 - More Us, More We

From the desk of Dr. John Johnson, vice president for diversity and inclusion:

On my wall, there is a framed print by the artist Brije with four words creatively displayed: “More Us, More We.” A simple sentiment that encourages a focus beyond oneself and directs our attention to community. As we come together for the 2022-23 academic year, I want to encourage us to examine the balance between our own needs and those of our community. Each Wednesday, the Division of Diversity and Inclusion will provide content for Whitman Today that is related to the work of the Division, the diversity of our community, and information to assist us in our efforts to grow and come together.

Diversity is the recognition that homogeneity is antithetical to excellence. The term inclusive excellence, which you will encounter with increasing frequency in the weeks and months ahead, typically refers to an institution’s ability to access and leverage the added value of the different populations present in their environment. More than that, inclusive excellence recognizes that racial disparities in faculty and staff retention and promotion rates would be a reflection of institutional failure. Inclusive excellence appreciates that ADA compliance is the bare minimum and that efforts to confront ableism on and off campus are essential to our common success. Inclusive excellence acknowledges that the absence of content related to indigenous ways of knowing, Black psychology, and trans health care, among other topics, would be an institutional deficiency. Inclusive excellence emphasizes the importance of acknowledging our awareness gaps and how homogeneity can limit our access to certain communities and the brilliance they bring with them. Inclusive excellence is the understanding that our community can only be excellent if it is diverse and that it can only be diverse if we are excellent at inclusion.

In the spring of 2021, we collected racial climate data from the students at Whitman by administering the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates (NACCC). The study indicated that students of color at Whitman, on average, felt less safe, less welcome and less included at the college than their white peers. Students of color reported being burdened to provide racial education to their fellow students and also perceived their classes, particularly those taught by white faculty, as not particularly diverse in terms of curricular content. Students of color also noted that they felt less supported and affirmed in their classes with white instructors compared to their experiences in classes with faculty of color. 

More Us, More We. 

Heading into this year, we should all be thinking about what we can do, stop doing, and/or do differently in order to reduce the disparities revealed by the NACCC results. All of us have work to do. And it’s important that we call it out as work, because inclusive excellence is not achieved through kindness, niceness, or colorblindness. Whitman’s core values include diversity, equity and inclusion. But we must practice diversity without dominance, equity without benevolence, inclusion without othering, and belonging without assimilation to be excellent. 

All of us exist in a world that routinely messages the devaluation of other members of our society. In California, there are currently 22 states listed on CA Assembly Bill 1887 that prohibits state-funded travel to select states as part of an effort to avoid supporting or financing regions of the country that have passed laws that allow for or contribute to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. There were four states on the list when the law went into effect in January 2017. Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared in December of 2020 that Washington will be an antiracist state and committed resources to achieve that aspirational goal (see Executive Order 22-04). 

More Us, More We.

We are at a moment of transition. Since January of this year, five people have joined the Division of Diversity and Inclusion here at Whitman, with three of those individuals starting in July. One of the new staff in the Division is the college’s first ever director of LGBTQIA+ student services. Additional information about the new hires can be found here. We have reconfigured elements of the Division and additional details will be provided in the Annual Report, which will be shared here in a few weeks. We also have a new President and I am thrilled to be working alongside Sarah Bolton to advance inclusive excellence at Whitman College. 

During this time of change, I would encourage us to pause and think about what each of us can do to build an inclusive and welcoming community for all. What is your personal DEIA education strategy? Who is in your community of accountability and can call you in when you make a mistake (and you will make mistakes)? How have you aligned with others who hold marginalized identities, including marginalized identities different from your own, and in what ways is your advocacy guided by their instructions? How are you navigating your positionality in your interpersonal interactions and pushing yourself to think about the needs of others in addition to your own? We can only be excellent as an institution if we are inclusive. To be excellent, we need to be focused on ways to build and be an inclusive community. 

More Us, More We.

Let’s go Blues!

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